THIS STORY TAKES
NOVEL "THE SHADOW
IN THE GLASS" AND
THE BIG FINISH AUDIO
BIG FINISH STAGE PLAYS
CD#1 (ISBN 1-84435-
373-6) RELEASED IN
The Daleks have
with the Cybermen
and a deadly band
The future of Earth
depends upon a vital
And Mrs THATCHER
knows that only one
Time Lord can save
There are battles.
There are betrayals.
There is love, and
there ARE even songs.
Take your seat for
Doctor Who – The
The Ultimate Adventure
The Ultimate Adventure started life as a stage play in 1989, touring the UK for
two months with Jon Pertwee in the lead role as the Doctor, and then for a further four with Colin Baker. Now it’s back, in audio form, as the first in Big Finish’s series of stage play reconstructions. These really aren’t something for the casual fan, existing to fulfil just two possible fan needs - those who saw the plays performed get the reassurance of nostalgia; and those who missed out get a chance to experience a production that they never thought they’d have.
the latest of the three plays, was performed,
and my only experience of Doctor Who back
then was limited to the occasional dose of
Sylvester McCoy, barely remembered now.
As a fully-fledged fan, the opportunity to get a
hold of this ‘lost story’ is irresistible, but only
a die-hard fan could really enjoy it.
Terrence Dicks reworks his original script to
become more audio-friendly, but only partially
succeeds. Far too often, exposition takes over,
with many exchanges sounding something like: “Look at that over there! I’ll describe it for you
at length...” Much of the play’s appeal must lay with its visuals, and hearing about flying aliens
and sword fights just isn’t the same as seeing
it. A bar-room brawl that was clearly put in for
Pertwee’s Doctor would be hard to make work
for Baker’s in any event, and so when relying
totally on sound, it’s an inevitable failure.
Which is a shame, because the sound design
on this release is excellent. Nicholas Briggs
once again does himself proud, opening the
play with some very impressive Dalek voices,
and brings back his deep and spiteful Dalek
Emperor in the closing scenes. The Cybermen,
back in their sonorous 1980s style, but a little
more coherent, are also effective. The sound
effects are uniformly impressive, and the music
generally works well.
Somewhat less effective are the songs. While the producers’ descriptions of the production as a musical are stretching it a little, the songs do make The Ultimate Adventure stand out amongst Doctor Who productions. The first, Crystal’s Strange Attractor, manages to be both a typical musical-style number, and the most shockingly 1980s-sounding number in history. It’s more 1980s than the 1980s. Business is Business, sung by Madame Delilah, is more effective, with some really quite clever lyrics. The love song duet that marks the second half is simply bland. However, the singers here possess good voices, and the inclusion of songs gives a real feel for how the play might have been like on its original theatrical run. I feel an actual musical version of Doctor Who could work well, given some genuinely good musical content.
The plot is slight: the Doctor is called to England by Margaret
Thatcher (!), and ordered to prevent any harm coming to an
American delegate whose presence is vital to the success
an upcoming peace conference. The Doctor fails, a bunch of
nasty space mercenaries and Cybermen abduct him, leading
him and his two latest companions on a merry goose chase across the galaxy until they eventually sort it all out and share
a happy ending.
The most effective part of all this is the concept of the Daleks
and Cybermen joining forces in order to destroy the Earth - a
fan-pleasing idea to rival all others. However, in practice, the idea is wasted. Such an alliance should be hugely powerful, but all they can think of to do is kidnap a dignitary, which will, for some unfathomable reason, start World War III. It’s all pretty flimsy, nothing but an excuse for some ornate and colourful theatrics, which probably worked fine originally, but doesn’t distract from the shortcomings on audio.
Performances are varied. Noel Sullivan (of Hear’Say, I hear) plays Jason, an exiled French aristocrat, who the Doctor arrives with at the start of the play, having previously rescued him from revolutionary France. Jason provides a welcome dash of romance and charisma to the TARDIS, and is well portrayed throughout. Crystal, on the other hand, is far less effective. An up-and-coming pop singer who stows away in classic companion style, she’s very annoying. How much of this is down to Dicks’ writing of the character, and how much to Claire Huckle’s screechy performance, I’m not sure. The TARDIS crew also swells to include Zog, a terribly furry Denebian who communicates in tweets and whistles, who is entirely pointless and also quite irritating.
Above: The original cast of The Ultimate Adventure: Graeme Smith, Jon Pertwee and Rebeca Thornhill
On the other hand, Nadine Cox
impresses as Madame Delilah,
mistress of the Bar Galactica and
the queen of the mercenaries. Her
boisterous singing and shameless
flirting with the Doctor remind me
of the character of Bianca in The Wormery; sadly though, that story took a similar setting and made it work far, far better. David Banks is the only actor other than Colin Baker that returns to his role in the original play. Here he is Karl, another mercenary, and gives a pretty average performance.
It’s Colin Baker who ultimately saves the production, working with the flimsiest of material
to give an earnest performance as the Doctor. Despite having to occasionally make some bizarre noises as he attempts to reproduce some alien languages, he retains his authority throughout the play. He has some good lines, a few groanful puns, and gets to bandy about some fun concepts. I do love the idea of the TARDIS’ EDS being so badly damaged that it starts working in reverse, and places the crew in the situation of maximum danger!
This release also makes full use of Big Finish’s extras policy, giving us several DVD-style documentaries about the production. Remembering The Ultimate Adventure is the best,
as Baker, Banks and Dicks all recall their work on the original play. We learn a good deal about how it came about, get some insights into Pertwee’s performance, and hear more about Banks’ short turn as the Doctor when Jon Pertwee was ill. The interviews help put the production in perspective. In Conversation is a fun bit of nostalgia, as Nicholas Briggs and Peter Ware recall how they each enjoyed the play back in the day; Remaking The Ultimate Adventure gives insights into the production process, while Making the Music focuses on the songs by Steven Ediss.
All in all, The Ultimate Adventure is all it sets out to be - a fun bit of panto that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to experience it, and yes, I did enjoy
it - however, it’s unlikely I’ll bother listening to it again!
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2008
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Like many, I was intrigued when Big Finish announced that they would be adapting the three Doctor Who stage plays for release on audio. Not being fortunate enough to have seen any of the productions live (indeed, of the three, only one took place within my lifetime), these releases would allow me to enjoy Doctor Who stories from an era past that otherwise
I’d never have known.
I’m not sure why The Ultimate Adventure was released first, given that it was the last of the Doctor Who stage plays to tour. Perhaps as it features a bona fide Doctor, not to mention the Daleks and even a contingent of Cybermen, Big Finish thought that this may be the one to ensnare the listeners.
The Ultimate Adventure stage play opened at the Wimbledon
Theatre in March 1989 and originally starred Jon Pertwee as
the third Doctor. He was relieved in June 1989 by Colin Baker,
who reprises the role here for this production, nineteen years
after the tour ended. Accordingly the Big Finish adaptation is
categorically the sixth Doctor version, right down to “reversing
the linearity of the positron flow” and sneaking in a reference
to the sixth Doctor’s popular Big Finish companion, Evelyn.
In fact, the only remaining Pertwee-ism in the production is a
rather fudged bar fight - Baker’s Doctor may not overtly wield
the old Venusian Akido, but the implication is clear.
I understand that The Ultimate Adventure recycled many elements from the 1970s stage production, Doctor Who and the Daleks in Seven Keys to Doomsday, however as I’m not (yet) familiar with this story, this did not affect my enjoyment of this production in any way. If anything, I was pleasantly surprised by how forward-looking The Ultimate Adventure seems to have been – we have the Doctor helping out a Prime Minister in need (though this one is explicitly Thatcher, rather than a couched metaphor); a Dalek loose inside the TARDIS long before The Parting of the Ways; and even the Daleks and the Cybermen in a story together years before Doomsday, albeit on the same side here.
Above: The original cast of The Ultimate Adventure: Graeme Smith, Stephanie Colburn and Rebeca Thornhill
Unfortunately, the plot of The Ultimate Adventure is absolutely pants but (and it is a big but) for once it doesn’t matter. Listening to the play, I wasn’t bothered by the narrative being Day of the Daleks less the interesting time-paradox bits. I didn’t care that the elements that I’ve listed above (save for Thatcher, who was brilliant) flopped spectacularly. Even the abysmal French aristocrat and wannabe pop princess companions did not bother me all that much, because they suited the jovial tone of the piece perfectly. The Ultimate Adventure is gaudy, raucous, family fun and had Big Finish tampered with the script and made it… erm... good, then they would have defeated the whole point of resurrecting these plays. The same applies to the three songs, which have now been excruciatingly preserved forever.
However, one thing that really did
make me cringe whilst listening
to the play was the utter lack of
subtlety in the exposition. Fair
dues, Dicks had a difficult job in
translating what I am sure were
some stunning visual theatrics
into words without the luxury of a page one rewrite, but even so, some of the dialogue here is truly painful: “Good grief! Karl ranched off the top casing of the Dalek and blasted the creature inside.” Thankfully, this one foreseeable flaw in the production doesn’t detract too much from one’s enjoyment of it, particularly given that the overall standard is so very high. I even found myself appreciating the ‘authentic’ 1980s Cybermen voices; they really took me back to stories like Silver Nemesis that I loved so much when growing-up.
What’s more, Big Finish have filled up the two CDs with perhaps their most comprehensive special features package to date. Gone are the indistinct ‘CD Extras’ with their mishmash (but nonetheless welcome) mix of interviews, to be replaced with some pre-planned and well thought-out documentaries such as Remembering the Ultimate Adventure and Remaking the Ultimate Adventure, complete with tales of power cuts and emergency Doctors.
On a final note, listening to this production made me wonder whatever happened to Andrew Cartmel and Ben Aaronovitch’s initial script for The Ultimate Adventure. The Samurai-Ant Metatraxi with their unusual codes of honour have always struck me as an interesting race to be explored, and with settings as assorted as Stonehenge, 1960s rock festivals, and Dalek wars in outer space, Cartmel and Aaronovitch’s ill-fated script may be ripe fodder for a future production of this kind…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
The Ultimate Adventure stage play was never intended to form part of continuity; indeed, it toured with two different actors playing the Doctor. However, the Big Finish adaptation featuring the sixth Doctors does fit nicely into the canon, and we see no reason to exclude it simply of grounds of format and/or tone.
As the Doctor refers to Evelyn as being amongst his former travelling companions (but not “Mila”, Jamie or Mel), we have therefore placed The Ultimate Adventure adaptation as taking place between the novel The Shadow in the Glass and the Big Finish audio drama The Condemned. Arguably it could take place prior
to The Shadow in the Glass, but as the Doctor speaks of Evelyn fondly, and in The Shadow in the Glass
he still appears to be a little touchy about travelling alone, we have placed The Ultimate Adventure later.
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